Literary Arts | Music

J.A.C. Redford’s Rest Now, My Sister

Composer J.A.C. Redford

Composer J.A.C. Redford

by Becky Durham

In 1935 composer Herbert Howells lost his nine-year-old son Michael to meningitis.  To make his way through his grief he turned, not surprisingly, to music.  In his own words: “The sudden loss in 1935 of an only son, a loss essentially profound and, in its very nature, beyond argument, might naturally impel a composer, after a time, to seek release and consolation in language and terms most personal to him. Music may well have the power beyond any other medium to offer that release and comfort.” Contemporary composer Jennifer Higdon composed a piece called “blue cathedral” in 1999 following the death of her brother who had suffered from melanoma.  She says, “I began writing this piece at a unique juncture in my life and found myself pondering the question of what makes a life. The recent death of my younger brother, Andrew Blue, made me reflect on the amazing journeys that we all make in our lives, crossing paths with so many individuals singularly and collectively, learning and growing each step of the way. This piece represents the expression of the individual and the group—our inner travels and the places our souls carry us, the lessons we learn, and the growth we experience.”  In the 19th century Johannes Brahms composed the lovely “Nanie” as a tribute to his friend, painter Anselm Feuerbach, who passed away in 1880 and Bedrich Smentana looked to the intimacy of chamber music when he composed his Trio in G Minor “written in memory of my first child, Bedriska, who enchanted us with her extraordinary musical talent, and yet was snatched away from us by death, aged 4 1/2 years.”

Surely there have been hundreds of musical tributes, memorials, and homages composed and dedicated to loved ones over the years. Utah Chamber Artists is honored to perform just such a personal expression at our Collage Concerts, “Chant and Contemplation” this week. Our musicians have approached this work humbly and with an earnest intent to represent the composer’s vision and to realize the anguish, pain, solace, and peace found in the words and notes.

J.A.C  and LeAnn Redford and their family faced unimaginable tragedy last December when LeAnn’s sister, Kristine Gabel Allred was murdered. Redford looked to words initially, as he says, to “to deal with my own grief and console my wife”.  He wrote a sonnet and then subsequently married those words with music.  Redford’s poem, “Rest Now, My Sister is painfully true to the circumstances of her death, yet as he moves through heartbreak he finds the means to summon peace. The tender counsel “rest, now my sister”, repeated throughout the work, offers healing consolation and hope.  Redford bookends his poem with the Latin, “Requiescat in pace. Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine: et lux perpetua luceat ei” and sets that text to a solo chant melody.

In the body of the poem Redford implements the imagery of birds to communicate his ideas.
He explains he is influenced by poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, particularly the poem “Peace”. “When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut, Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs? When, when, Peace, will you, Peace?”  In his own poem, Redford references the “wooddove”. “…let the wild wood dove light to chant its peace, release its healing store.” (Here, he also recalls the “chant” he employs earlier in the piece, whereas in the chant portion of the work he foreshadows the upcoming bird imagery with ascending triplets in the orchestra accompaniment evoking their flight). There is also a nod to Dylan Thomas when Redford, unlike Thomas’s admonition, “pray[s] that that my sister’s soul may indeed ‘go gentle into that good night’ after a death of such unimaginable violence.”  Other symbols the composer draws upon are the kite, a bird of prey and finally the phoenix that rises from the ashes re-born, often a symbol for Christ.

“Rest Now, My Sister” is a solemn, courageous and loving tribute to Kristine. J.A.C. Redford, brother-in-law and composer offers her – and others who hear his piece — an exquisite; a genuine response to her death and to her life. Just as other composers and artists have turned to what they know best to assuage their feelings, JAC has taken an act of destruction and answered it with an act of creation.

In 1991 musician Eric Clapton worked through the torment of losing his 4 ½ year-old son who had tragically fallen from a 49-story building in New York City by writing “Tears in Heaven.”  When asked if it was “tough” to write the song he replied, “The writing of the song is the therapy. The toughness is doing nothing.”

Rest Now, My Sister
in memory of Kristine Marie Allred Gabel (1965-2010)

Requiescas in pace, soror mea.
Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine:
et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Requiescas in pace.

Rest now, my sister, rest from every fear
of carrion kite that dove on ragged wing
to rend with bitter claw, from every tear
of shame, my sister, rest from everything.
Rest now, and let the wild wood dove light
to chant its peace, release its healing store,
to ease you gentle into that good night
where sting and talon trouble you no more.
O sister, rest, and let the phoenix rise
from ash and cinder, smoking in the ring.
Where heat once rose to beat against the skies
with longing fierce, O let the phoenix sing.
For birdsong now may weave its golden nest
and heart unclenched at last may learn its rest.

Requiescas in pace, soror mea.
Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine:
et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Requiescas in pace.

J.A.C. Redford
January 2011

Rest Now, My Sister by J.A.C. Redford will be performed as part of the Utah Chamber Artists’ Chat & Contemplation Cathedral Collage performances at the Cathedral of the Madeleine Monday, September 19 and Tuesday, September 20th at 8 pm. The concerts are free. Read more about the concerts in this month’s edition of 15 Bytes.

Categories: Literary Arts | Music

1 reply »

  1. Heartbreakingly beautiful. Tender and comforting. I think of my dear sister Mary who took her own life in January. Rest in peace., dear Mary.

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